One of the most common questions that Physical Therapists get asked is whether running will increase your risk of developing knee osteoarthritis (OA). In the past, many healthcare practitioners told their patients that running would wear down the cartilage of the knees, ultimately resulting in arthritis. While this line of thinking made sense, it may not actually hold true.

Our bodies and skeletal systems are extremely resilient and are capable of adapting to many different types and amounts of stress if trained properly. For example, several studies have shown that, while running, our hip joints will have forces of 4-5x bodyweight placed on them, and our knees experience forces of 3-4x bodyweight! For a 180 lb. man this would be equivalent to squatting with nearly 550 lbs on their back! While this amount of force may seem scary, our bodies are very well designed to support these types of loads, and running has been shown to have many overall health benefits.

When looking at the research, running has actually NOT been shown to cause arthritic changes in the knees of recreational runners. One study in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, titled Running and Osteoarthritis: Does Recreational or Competitive Running Increase the Risk?, showed that running at the recreational level actually has a protective mechanism on the knees! This article reviewed multiple studies, with a total of over 100,00 people, that looked at the correlation between running and knee OA.

What this study found was that only 3.5% of recreational runners developed hip or knee arthritis, while 10.2% of sedentary individuals developed arthritis! What this means is that recreational running certainly won’t harm your knees, and may even protect them against developing arthritis. As always, you should follow a proper program that avoids big spikes in running volume or distance, but you should be confident in the fact that you won’t be damaging your knees.

To note, this study did find that elite level runners who ran with very high volume (greater than 57 miles per week) had a slightly higher rate of arthritis, however this does not generalize to the vast majority of people who run as a form of exercise!

If you have any questions about running and joint health, or are dealing with a running related injury, contact our office at 203-693-3754.


Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 2017 Volume:47 Issue:6 Pages:391–391 DOI: 10.2519/jospt.2017.0505

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